Smiling professional woman presenting to colleagues in a conference room.
A presentation can come in many different types and formats, but there are a few key universal characteristics that help make a presentation great. — Getty Images/AzmanJaka

A typical business presentation includes a slide deck and speech presented virtually or in person. However, an excellent presentation incorporates storytelling and data visualization techniques. It should engage your audience and encourage them to take action.

Give a great presentation by designing an aesthetically pleasing slide deck in the right format for your needs. Next, work on your storytelling skills and take your presentation software for a test run. Plus, don't forget to prepare for the unexpected.

Consider the presentation type and format

A business presentation can refer to keynote speeches, investor or sales pitches, and project status reports. You may want to teach your audience about your products or persuade them to purchase. Alternatively, your presentation may kick off a new project by defining the steps needed to progress.

According to SlideModel, there are three general presentation types:

  • Informative: Educate your audience during a team briefing, business plan presentation, or stakeholder report.
  • Persuasive: Sway your audience and prompt them to act with an effective sales, business case, or investor presentation.
  • Supporting: Convey your action plan to decision-makers during a business meeting with leadership or a public speaking event.

Your business presentation format will vary according to your audience and topic. For instance, demonstrating a product at your client's business may play out differently than virtually walking them through an online demo. Think about the presentation tools you will use and any supplementary materials you will hand out or send digitally.

Use storytelling techniques

Bring your speech and slideshow to life through storytelling. Elena Valentine, the CEO and co-founder of Skill Scout Films, told Relevance, "As presenters, good stories allow us to be both an expert and a human at the same time." Storytelling involves sharing relatable details that help you forge a connection with attendees.

Your presentation is a journey with a set arc, including a clear beginning, middle, and end. It should guide your audience to a conclusion and speak to their emotions. Keep your topic, central message, and purpose in mind when crafting the narrative.

[Read more: 7 Ways to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills]

Also, consider having a second person help with your in-person or virtual presentation. They can work behind the scenes to assist attendees with audio or video problems, moderate the chat, or troubleshoot technical issues.

Create a compelling slide deck

Define your main point with a headline on each slide and make them scannable. According to Zoho, the 10-20-30 rule is an effective way to create a business presentation. This method uses 10 slides for a 20-minute presentation with 30 points or larger font sizes. In addition, American Express recommends centering text and using high-contrast slides.

Use data visualization tools to turn vital statistics into bar graphs and pie charts. Also, consider ditching the bullet points and replacing them with infographic-style graphics. Many software tools, including PowerPoint, provide slide layouts and font templates, which can be a time-saver. Don't forget to summarize your presentation's main takeaways and tell your audience what to do next with a call-to-action (CTA).

Get familiar with your presentation technology

Although your audience may be patient, you lose precious minutes fumbling with devices and software. If possible, set up your system beforehand and run through your presentation several times. Play around with different presentation modes and views to create an optimal experience.

If you're presenting outside your office or home, try arriving at the venue early to connect your devices and explore the technical setup. Also, consider having a second person help with your in-person or virtual presentation. They can work behind the scenes to assist attendees with audio or video problems, moderate the chat, or troubleshoot technical issues.

[Read more: 6 Virtual Event Platforms For Small Businesses]

Prepare for the unexpected

Presenting to an audience can be stressful, and those feelings are amplified when something goes wrong. Your presentation software won't load, or an in-person event switches to virtual. However, the show must go on.

Follow these tips to avoid problems at the last minute:

  • Bring backup devices in case of hardware failures, such as a tablet or laptop.
  • Have a mobile hotspot and login details ready as a backup internet connection.
  • Keep a PDF version of your presentation on your device.
  • Save a backup copy on a drive not connected to the cloud.
  • Upload supplementary materials to your website and keep the links handy.
  • Run through your backup presentation methods, so you're comfortable with them.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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CO— is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Published July 18, 2022